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‘I love you.’
Words that she had expected to remain unsaid. Something kept close to her chest, unspoken unto the ending of the world. An emotional reality that would interfere with how everything operated. A change that couldn’t be taken back.
And he had accepted it. And let her kiss him. Had accepted touch and intimacy and a thousand small sensations that had barely been part of her imaginings whenever he’d been in her mind as she masturbated.
Magnolia tried not to move, tried to keep her breathing even, her movements as subtle as when she’d been sleeping. Still, with how large his back muscles were in her field of vision and how loud her heart was beating in her chest, this early morning, fairy-tale-perfect moment was going to end sooner or later.
Nothing had been planned. She hadn’t known what Grigori had been going to say. What her commander had been planning. That such a thought had even been a possibility.
And she hadn’t noticed him secret away any mirror when Mimosa’s heart had exploded.
But it had happened, and Grigori, all the gods bless him, had shifted her in. Had let her listen in.
She’d been halfway through designing a new makeup macro, the simple joy of deciding between multiple shades of black lipstick. And in a few seconds, she’d gone from a rare moment of completely chill downtime to listening to the man she loved float suicide as his only viable way forward.
Love confessions followed. More conversations followed.
And…things had changed.
In every way that mattered, he was still her commander, but it was obvious some immense, unfathomable weight had been lifted from him.
He’d cut whatever ties remained to the dead man, to the man she’d never cared about, and to the man Grigori still loved – someone remembered but whose loss had been accepted.
In a way that had been as natural as breathing, as unbelievable as a dream, they’d moved from the relative discomfort of the gym into a bed easily built for five. They’d then slept – just slept – with Taylor as the meat of an affection sandwich.
And now, she lay spooning him, one arm under her head, the other lying on her hip, unwilling to reach out and lay it across him again, lest it wake him up.
Nothing was guaranteed.
It didn’t seem like things would suddenly revert to how they’d been before, but there was always the possibility. Breakthroughs – especially ones as big as this – were never clean and simple.
Nothing was guaranteed, so every second right now was precious.
Whatever happened when he woke up would determine the entire course of her future.
She’d always been prepared to walk away. Staying while things were simple was easy. Staying while her feelings were under lock and key and they were nothing more than commander and soldier was no problem. There was no worry that he’d look at her with pity or contempt whilst her feelings were boxed.
If these few fairy tale hours were about to come crashing to some awful, dark end. If he needed to back away or wanted to reject either or both of them now that he’d had time to process things, then…then she’d leave.
A hundred Directors would fight to the death for the privilege of getting her to transfer to their Agency. A dozen security firms in Fairyland would fulfil every wish and desire she had as a signing bonus to get her on board. And Ryan was a broken enough man that if she asked for a consultancy job, working one hour a week, retaining all of her requirement licences, allowing her to live like a fucking emperor, he wouldn’t even ask her to increase it to ninety minutes a week.
That was the worst-case scenario, but it was something she had to prepare herself for.
It was possible to be friends with your exes. It was possible to have conversations with friends where one party’s crush wasn’t reciprocated and for the friendship to stay intact. Those were healthy, adult ways of functioning.
In this situation…it might not be possible. With how balls-deep they already were in each other’s lives, with how every moment relied on their teamwork and co-dependence, a love confession would-
Taylor shifted a little, and she couldn’t help but lay her fingers on his hip. His hand pulled on hers and extended her arm so that her hand lay on his stomach.
‘Sleep,’ he said, and his body settled again.
She kissed his shoulder blade, closed her eyes, and drifted back into a wonderful, warm, half-conscious haze, still in disbelief that somehow, it seemed like her biggest dream had come true.
Sometime soon after, there was a shifting of sheets as Grigori stood. She watched as he stretched, his skin and hair rippling as he refreshed himself. Then his suit appeared – something he didn’t often wear, which meant he was likely due for some meeting in Central or some conference where showing up in a Combat uniform would be seen as a faux pas.
He walked around the head of the bed, kissed Taylor’s forehead and her cheek, and then shifted away with a wink.
As it always did, someone actually getting out of bed broke the spell – as enjoyable as the moment was, the real world was calling.
Taylor still slept, which backed up her theory that his sleep had been less than optimal. Each morning, there’d been signs that he’d been up longer than usual, perhaps not sleeping at all. And if that was the case, there would be some time tacked onto the sleep cycle to flush the extra shit from his temp cache, to defrag and refrag whatever needed to be reorganised.
She left the bed and slipped through the door into their private gym. The polished wood was cold under her feet, and the air conditioning cool on her arms after the warmth of the all-night cuddle puddle.
A couple of requirements refreshed her cami and boy-short-style underpants, then added combat pants and boots. Another tidied her hair, slicking the short hair back and capturing the longer hair usually reserved for her braids in a short ponytail. Simple. Efficient. Too much on her mind to think about how she wanted to wear her hair for the day.
They’d left everything on the bleachers, as tidying things away had been the last thing on anyone’s mind – but it needed to be done. It would be one less point of stress for Taylor when he finally rose if she dealt with it now.
Her knife went back into her boot, where it belonged.
She gathered the paperwork and tidied it into a stack before dismissing it – this was the other fallout she was going to have to deal with – and likely soon. The dismissal paperwork had been a threat but had meant nothing without her commander’s signature.
The resignation paperwork would be virtually waving its ass in front of Ryan, demanding his attention and signature to finalise.
She was surprised he hadn’t burst in through the wall, like some fuddy-duddy version of the Kool-Aid Man, ready to beg for her forgiveness for whatever had made her quit. Perhaps the fact that she’d remained within the Agency had kept his panic under control.
Things hadn’t even progressed enough to have cut off her ability to require.
She stepped back and up onto the bottom row of the bleachers, then gave a lazy wave of her hand – as she did, she required a surface-to-air missile unit. The unit appeared, shining and new, in the middle of Taylor’s gym.
Another wave of her hand dismissed it, and she stepped back down onto the floor.
To be able to require something so destructive and so unusual meant that in addition to still being able to require, Ryan hadn’t even clamped down on her licences. So he was either sure that she was bluffing or was hoping he would be able to beg her to stay.
She required her phone and workbook, set both onto the second row of the bleachers, and let her inbox fill up with everything that had come in overnight as she walked to the far end of the gym.
The third piece of fallout was still sticking out of the wall in the form of a silver throwing knife.
It was a conversion you had, late at night, maybe after a drink, around a table bought at Kmart or Bunnings, mozzies biting your arms, too hot to sleep, because Queensland was a place the gods had abandoned long ago.
“What would you do with a piece of mirror?”
The answers largely depended on the amount of liquor consumed and how close you were with the people around the cheap, glass-top table.
Sometimes it was a chorus of “shove it up my arse, obviously” to rules-lawyering questions of how far you could break down a piece of mirror and still get an effective wish. Sometimes you got real answers.
Being real was hard, and letting people in was harder, so most often, she’d been amongst the arse-shovers.
It had always been a faraway thing, the same thing regular humans would ask “what would you do if you won lotto”. It wasn’t supposed to be a real possibility.
And a few feet away was any – albeit relatively small – wish she could want answered.
The magic pulled her, beckoned her, whispering like sirens, begging her to make a wish. Strangely, as close as she’d been to Mimosa – often grabbing the remote-piloted empty husk to line it up for their tests, she’d never felt tempted to tear the girl’s shirt off and rip into her chest.
But separated and without a purpose, this piece of mirror proclaimed its usefulness to the world, reverbing on frequencies deeper than her soul.
And nothing came to mind that she would want to use it for.
There were things she would like, but they mostly amounted to frivolities. A dress by Arshan Yo, a week in the impossible-to-book Cloud Suite, bucket list items that would remain like that, that wouldn’t be major points of regret when she inevitably died, blood in her mouth from taking her killer down at the same time.
Likewise, there were things that she very much didn’t want – events she’d wished had never happened, memories that refused to fade to the depths of time.
But those weren’t worth a wish when – admittedly irregular – therapy could help her work through some of it.
Some people would think it was arrogant to not want to make a wish – as if it was something she could lord over people at a later date, that she was pretending not to want something for some kind of weird clout.
As ready as some people were to grab anything shiny and wish, there were honestly probably an equal number of people who would think double-think, second-thoughts and consider before ultimately deciding that maybe using a piece of some fundamental part of the universe probably wasn’t the best way to get a mint-condition classic convertible that could also fly and attracted every girl you decided to honk at.
But the knife couldn’t stay stuck in the wall; it was dangerous to leave it as it was.
Sooner or later, whatever luck had followed her from the dreamy, fairy-tale morning of waking up next to the man she loved would fade, and one of two things would happen. Either Ryan would appear, ready to beg on his literal hands and knees for her to stay. Or Merlin would start chatting to the mirror in a language that had last been spoken before the sun had been birthed.
Merlin was an area where she was going to have to let cognitive dissonance or some other ability to hold contradictions live and let live.
Taylor was…her everything, but she wasn’t going to betray Merlin’s secret, not until there was a reason to. Not until it came down to a choice between them or Merlin became the threat that his parents had surely been designing.
She yanked the mirror from the wall, the handle of the knife sliding easily and perfectly into her palm. The magic pushed at her but wasn’t making demands. It was a bright red notification asking for attention, but something you could choose to ignore.
‘Stay…inconspicuous,’ she said, keeping her mind still, making sure that it knew it wasn’t a proper wish. Just the same sort of non-wish magic that had morphed it into a knife as she’d hurled it away from Taylor’s hand.
Somehow, it shone more dully, and it seemed less impressive. Something you could easily overlook. Even the pulse from it was less intense. Good enough. Probably not enough to deter Merlin, but Mimosa spent half her time in the Tech Department, so he could cuddle with her if he needed to hear another mirror’s song.
She crossed the gym, pressed on a wall panel, and it slid back, revealing the storeroom behind. A room full of the myriad tricks and toys Taylor – both her Taylor and the former Taylor – had accumulated.
It was long-term storage mostly, things that were pulled out for special occasions or because there was some rare problem that needed something more than a simple – as Screen liked to put it – tank-and-spank.
Most of the items there were fae, things that couldn’t be required. Some were over-the-counter pieces from the fae equivalent of army disposal stores. Most were far rarer than that. Most, their providence and purpose were mysteries – coming in here was a treat, not part of regular training.
The more and more context she got about Taylor and his former – both he and Grigori had started using the term, usually reserved for templates, to lay the line in the sand about the man who had been and the man who was – the more some things were easier to understand.
Because it had mainly continued items obtained by his former, this room was probably as much an emotional drain as it was a place of inventive ways to deal with problems.
It was why a lot of his favourite objects lived behind panels.
At the back was what looked like a wooden footlocker. Without looking more closely, that’s all anyone would see – one more bit of military-style chic in a division full of them. She knelt and opened it – inside were various rare bullets and glass jars of various occult and weird things.
More proof that it was an ordinary footlocker.
She required a sheath for the mirror knife, wrote her name in marker on it, and then tucked it down behind a jar containing a small glass-headed hammer. She closed and locked the box and sat on it, trying to see if it had worked.
As glorious as her ass was, it wasn’t thick enough to defer the pulses of please-make-a-wish from a mirror under ordinary circumstances.
Hidden away in the locker that seemed to block any and all magic in and out, she had to really, really search to feel the barest phantom notes of the mirror’s magic poking at her soul.
It would do. It was secret. It was safe. It could stay there until her commander decided what to do with it. Use it, save it, destroy it, try and wish it to rejoin its sibling pieces of broken mirror Jones had collected from the floor, or…just hand it back to Mimosa and hope the fallout was manageable.
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